Once upon a time when looking for a means to store information such as pictures, documents, music and video the only real viable solution was to purchase an external hard drive or acquire a USB pen. Thankfully external storage solutions like these still exist and have progressed in recent years in terms of offering larger storage sizes while bringing down the actual physical size of the media but they have largely taken a back seat to the boom in cloud based storage options.
The wonderful world wide web is rammed full of different cloud storage solutions, some of which represent fantastic value for money for consumers and some that shouldn’t be touched due to the lack of stability and extortionate pricing attached. As you might expect, some of the biggest technology companies in the game offer their own services such as Apple, Amazon and Google but the leading name in cloud storage at the moment is arguably Dropbox. We take a look at Apple iCloud, Amazon Cloud Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft Sky Drive and Google Drive to see what each service offers to consumers.
Although a comparison and analysis of each service could be attacked from a number of different angles the average consumer may only find themselves concerned with things like the amount of storage space offered, the devices that they can access their information from, the type of files that the service supports and any size constraints for uploads as well as how easy it is to actually get up and running with and use on a daily basis. It is for that reason that we will concentrate on those key areas.
Supported File Types
The true power and versatility of any digital storage solution can be measured by limitations that are placed on what is actually allowed to be uploaded to the account. The Amazon Cloud Space and Dropbox are front runners when it comes to supported file types and size constraints attached to those file types. Both services seem to support and accept pretty much any file type that you can think of with no mentioned limit to the size of the file that can be uploaded. It is worth pointing out that each account will come with a maximum storage limit which obviously can’t be breached but Amazon and Dropbox don’t seem to care if that upper capacity is reached with the upload of one large file or multiple smaller uploads.
Google Drive and Microsoft Sky Drive both have the same versatility when it comes to file types, but have a 10GB and 2GB limit placed on the size of an individual file that be sent to the cloud. The minimum Apple iCloud account provides 5GB in storage and any upload will eat into that limit but Apple technically allow any file type to be uploaded although it is handled in a different manner with users needing to be particularly astute about how they do it.
1st = Amazon Cloud Drive
2nd = Dropbox
3rd = Google Drive
4th = Microsoft Sky Drive
5th = Apple iCloud
Ease of use is important. Supported file types are important. Compatible devices are important but none of them really matter if the total allotted upload space is tiny. As you might imagine it isn’t as simple as grabbing a handful of space and then uploading files to it. Each of the five mentioned services have different account types that come with different amounts of storage and companies like Dropbox even offer additional free storage as an incentive to upload photographs through the mobile app or to get additional members to sign up for an account. From a purely simplistic perspective Amazon Cloud Drive and Dropbox are pretty straightforward from the get-go with Amazon offering a basic 5GB package all the way up to a huge 1TB based on how much the customer wants to part with.
Dropbox offer a basic 2GB free account that can be extended up to a maximum of 18GB with the aforementioned referrals and additional space based on incentives at the time. Further upgrades are possible up to 1TB for those that want to go down the business route.
Microsoft’s SkyDrive service is an integral part of the MSFT “Live” experience and although they offer a simple 25GB plan it is worth remembering that all Live documents, photos and media count toward that total limit. Any new member signing up to SkyDrive will unfortunately be limited to 7GB, which is simple enough but still significantly less than the 25GB previously offered.
Apple iCloud needs to be thought of in a total different manner as it isn’t a simple storage and upload service like most of the others. iCloud is designed to work hand-in-hand with Apple’s mobile and desktop products and therefore the base 5GB amount of space is used for backups, saving documents to the cloud and so forth. Apple do offer the ability to purchase additional space.
1st = Dropbox (2GB free account, expandable up to free 18GB through incentives).
2nd = Amazon Cloud Drive (5GB free account expandable up to 1TB on demand).
3rd = Google Drive (5GB free account, expandable up to a staggering 16TB).
4th = Microsoft Sky Drive (7GB free account, used by all Live services).
5th = Apple iCloud (5GB free to be used with iOS devices).
So, we have our storage options. We have the files that can be uploaded to our accounts and now we need to determine how easy these things are to actually use. It’s perfectly feasible that any hardened computer and internet user will be able to upload files with minimal fuss through the web interface or an official or third-party app but these things need to be usable by all levels of users. It’s naive to assume that cloud storage users are all technical wizards as it just isn’t the case.
Opinion is split on how Dropbox handle their uploading and accessing. The service does offer a web based interface that is extremely simple but there is also the option of using an official application to upload and access any and all files at will. Syncing between machines is simple and automatic with minimal fuss and set up.
Apple’s iCloud service is another storage solution that really couldn’t be any simpler. The settings on all compatible devices consist of simply turning the required supported data on or off with the rest being handled by the system without any fuss. Content is backed up and synced across multiple devices and in the case of things like files and documents they are presented immediately when running a supported application like Pages or Numbers.
Google and Microsoft seem to have taken a retrospective leaf out of the Dropbox book and have pushed out applications for accessing data but they also have the standard web accessing methods. Users who opt for Amazon Cloud Drive will be pleased to know that things are as straight forward as possible with one central repository for information be stored in.
1st = Dropbox (simple and intuitive and easy to get up to speed with).
3rd = Microsoft Sky Drive (doesn’t take a rocket scientist to get up and running).
4th = Google Drive (relatively simple set up).
5th = Amazon Cloud Drive (not quite on the same level as the others just yet.)
Although it isn’t really the most important aspect of the decision, the compatible devices debate should really be taken into consideration considering the amount of importance that is being placed on converged services and having all of our data and information available no matter what device we are using. Apple’s iCloud is by far the least flexible of the services when it comes to the different devices that it can be accessed from. This is purely down to the fact that iCloud is essentially used as back-up service for Apple devices therefore it stands to reason that only iOS and OS X machines have that luxury.
Dropbox definitely leads the way in terms of compatibility. Native iOS, Android, Windows and OS X applications are available that all manage to sync data seamlessly amongst themselves. Microsoft Sky Drive isn’t that far behind although Microsoft are yet to create an Android or Blackberry app which seems quite strange considering Google’s mobile OS is the most popular in the world. Amazon Cloud Drive actually provides a substantial amount of accessibility options thanks to its dependence on Flash although that immediately rules out iOS devices that aren’t capable of running Flash for very good reason.
1st = Dropbox (the most established in terms of cross compatibility).
2nd = Google Drive (new functional iOS client is a definite bonus).
3rd = Microsoft Sky Drive (Close runner-up but bizarrely not support for Android).
4th = Amazon Cloud Drive (Accessible from any Flash device plus a few native options).
5th = Apple iCloud (accessible only through Apple devices).
The different account options have been compared, but the underlying result is that it really comes down to each individual usage case to determine which option is best for each user or business. All services, like the majority of cloud providers, offer customization that can make their product as simple or as in-depth as required. The key is to find a perfect balance that best matches the needs and requirements of those who will be using it.
In terms of an overall winner or recommendation then it becomes extremely difficult to look past the ease, simplicity and device compatibility that is offered by Dropbox. Although it’s entirely possible that services like Google Drive may offer additional storage for a cheaper monthly price, the likes of Dropbox actually make it extremely to get additional free space to the tune of 18GB. We wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Dropbox to any level of user as a cloud storage solution.